Media Talk on The Guardian

Matt Wells had something of a moan this week about what he called an advert for DAB that he’d heard on the BBC this week. He saw it as a straight ad for BBC viewers and listeners to go out and buy a DAB digital radio.
A couple of things Matt:
The BBC did exactly the same thing last year(That’s a link to the Media Guardian site containing the video from last year). And indeed the BBC has been effectively promoting the DAB format since it started. Indeed since their charter requires them to broadcast on DAB, it would be strange if they didn’t. The BBC is not promoting a particular brand of radio – they’re promoting the format. That’s not surprising since they broadcast in the format and have a national DAB multiplex.
Secondly, this is no different to what happened with Freeview where the BBC kicked life into the DTT format. They happily promoted – on air – the availability of the £99 box.
The BBC has also recently been promoting its HD channel. To watch that, I have to go out and buy and HD ready TV. And to watch that I also have to pay for a subscription to either Sky or Virgin Media, or go out and buy a Freesat box.
I know Matt Wells hates DAB digital radio, and he’s welcome to his opinions, which we hear endlessly week after week (although it was nice to hear the promotion of his sister company’s Christmas programming this week as news), but let’s have a little fairness shall we?
And it was entertaining that he enjoyed the Branagh version of Wallander. Last week, sight unseen, he wasn’t at all sure and thought that the books, which he hadn’t read, were rubbish. He might be interested to learn that the dramatisation was pretty accurate to the books. So perhaps he should try one or two before condemning them unread.
As for the Media Talk discussion about Project Kangaroo – well I’m going to get into that in another post. But I was disappointed by the level of discussion.


  1. Thats Matt Wells all over isn’t it – a poorly thought out mess of thoughts that scream of someone who needs a life.

  2. Can’t someone send Matt a nice DAB radio, he might “get it” then?
    MG is great most of the time, as it Matt W, but they get it wrong sometimes on this and other such things such as Jemima Kiss claiming that phones that play MP3 are not really MP3 players.
    Probably too many free Apple lunches…

  3. I moaned about the Freeview ad last year too – and last year’s DAB ad. My problem is not that they promote the platform – although we could have a separate argument over whether there are problems with the platform – it’s that they are actively encouraging people to get a DAB radio set. It’s practically an advert, even though they don’t mention a particular brand. Why should the BBC be battering listeners about the head over DAB radio sets when it’s clear that demand has levelled off, that digital radio is available on other platforms (mentioned only in an afterthought on the ad) and that commercial radio has practically abandoned the whole venture?
    @Digital radio tech – what a fab epitaph! Let me write that down…

  4. Well if people don’t buy the radios then nobody’s going to listen to the programmes that they’re making at great expense.
    It’s a Catch 22. Either you promote the service or you don’t.
    I’m not entirely convinced that the demand for DAB is over. It’s too early for this year’s figures to have come through, although December is obviously the time of year that most people buy DAB sets.
    We’re clearly entering a critical phase for DAB. There’s been the Digital Radio Working Group report last week, and we’ve got Stephen Carter’s Digital Britain report to look forward to.
    Then there are rumours of machinations within the industry… There’ll be an outcome one way or another sooner or later on DAB.
    But if the BBC didn’t promote the platforms its services are available on, then when the poor audience figures come through, they can’t really be blamed.
    PS. In case my employer’s PR department is reading, these thoughts are mine and mine alone. They still love you Matt!

  5. Face it Adam, DAB is a dodo. Yes, there are millions with their radios who are happy. And that’s how it’ll end up staying – a stagnant pool without a growing audience.
    It has been overtaken by all the other digital forms of delivering audio, and it’s had it’s day. You and these other amatuer media commentators can barely disguise their employer’s interests in DAB!
    And the difference between promoting a platform and promoting a product is a small but significant one. The BBC may be promoting their HD channel at the minute, but they’re not saying “Go out and spend £600 on a lovely new flat-screen telly, you’ll love it!” They’re telling people what they can watch if they get HD – AND that it’s available in 2 or 3 different places.
    With the DAB ad, it’s all “Go and buy a new radio!” – I don’t pay my licence fee for that. Why aren’t they telling me about all the content that they put out there on DAB?
    As goes the rest of the criticism, I enjoy Mediatalk very much, and all the asides about whether a telly programme is any good or not you have to take with a pinch of salt – if you’d heard the constant to’ing and fro’ing over Bonekickers and whether it was any good, you’ll know that it is part of the entertainment value.
    Basically, it seems to me that if you don’t agree with a programme’s content, think it’s poorly researched, and you don’t like it’s host… what are you still listening for?
    (I am not Matt Wells.)

  6. And a Happy Christmas to you too David!
    I’m pleased that you’ve strayed over to the website of an “amateur media commentator” like myself.
    I’d probably argue that I know considerably more about DAB than most. But if you want to call me amateur that’s your choice.
    Yes, as I make no bones about, my employer wants DAB to succeed. But that doesn’t mean that my views are swayed one way or another.
    I’m a realist. Commercial radio is suffering at the moment with an economy that’s going down the pan. That means fewer ads. That means business models that work solely based around advertising suffer (ie. all media except the BBC and subscription only models). In particular, the biggest radio group in the UK is especially suffering. DAB in the UK may still succeed or fail. But we’ve not reached that point. Frankly what you, I, or anyone on the Media Talk podcast says isn’t relevant. At this point, it’s what Ofcom decides and what Stephen Carter decides early in the new year which will really determine DAB, and indeed radio’s outcome.
    Unfortunately, broadcasting is still the most economical way of getting even an audio signal to thousands or even millions of listeners. I love internet radio, but it doesn’t work if 500,000 all want to hear the Today programme at 8.00am on a Monday morning. Perhaps one day it will, but not at the moment.
    We can argue about DAB v DAB+, but as I’ve mentioned before, that’s really not relevant while we have plenty of spectrum. Remember that Freeview works on Mpeg2. These days we’d use Mpeg4, but nobody’s in a rush to tell everybody to replace their Freeview boxes. That’ll happen naturally as HD over Freeview starts broadcasting.
    So it’s more a question of whether commercial radio can afford to broadcast on DAB, and introduce new services that listeners want to hear. And it’s also about getting the costs down. Transmission costs are crippling for national broadcasters and those broadcasting across many multiplexes. If those costs can be brought down (and they can), then it becomes an achievable proposition again.
    As for my criticism about Media Talk: well yes, it is an entertainment programme, and one that I wouldn’t miss. Like a diary column, it loves biting the hand that feeds it. I loved the kicking Bonekickers deservedly got. I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes I disagree with what they say, and the beauty of maintaining my blog means that I can tell the small circle of people who are interested in reading about it what I thought in comparison. A bit like if you met me down the pub.
    But when I think they’re being unfair, then I’ll stand up and say so.
    Interestingly, Emily Bell recently had something of a change in opinion and realised that there can be a reason for DAB. In particular, many communities that are otherwised unserved by media are finding places on DAB.
    Anyway, that’s enough DAB for 2008. Unless I get around to writing about the DRWG report…

  7. There is a migration path to DAB+ which I wrote about:
    And it will always be an efficient use of the electromagnetic spectrum to use broadcast for things that are actually broadcast, because if you have a mass listenership, then best to use a one-to-many channel, not a peer-to-peer network.
    DAB’s problem is that it falls between two many posts. There is choice over FM/AM, but now mainly of BBC stations, plus Planet Rock.
    The sound quality isn’t better. Mobile reception is worse. Coverage is worse. The choice of sets is very limited still – the only mobile phone with DAB was the Virgin Mobile Lobster, now dead.
    Freeview and satellite provide a much better listening experience for all radio channels over DAB. RDS still trumps DAB for auto tuning and the “traffic programme” service.
    And, as the BBC launched DAB before MPEG2 was ratified, there is no easy path to DAB+.
    And there is no “digital radio switchover” date to focus minds of both broadcasters and consumers.
    In the end DAB is a technology looking for a solution, not the answer to consumers prayers.
    If you were to ask people what they wanted from digital radio, I am sure they would want:
    1) Universal coverage better than FM and AM combined (as it is to replace both);
    2) More choice of stations and formats in both local and national configurations;
    3) Cheaper than analogue radio to buy;
    4) Integration into the music player you use (iPod, MP3 player or mobile phone)
    5) Good indoor reception on above portable devices including in car and on trains and even the underground;
    6) Sound quality to match or better FM for all services;
    7) PVR facilities: live pause, instant record and EPG recording;
    8) Automatic traffic information as per RDS
    9) All of the above today.
    Let’s face it, DAB as it stands now falls short on almost all of these.
    Audiophiles hate DAB because the sound quality is poor and there are no “separates” out there, and the casual user gets a device with an interface that resembles that of a broken ZX81.
    Taking all this into account Matt Wells has a point – DAB is a poor consumer proposition.
    But IP-delivered radio is NOT the solution to the above problems.

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